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Movie Review: 'Observe and Report' nabs more cringes than laughs

Lane Blevins • Apr 16, 2009 at 12:00 AM

I like Seth Rogen. I’ve said it before. The guy just appeals to me. He is the first comedic actor I have seen come along with whom I share context.

We are the exact same age. We grew up on Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino. We come from a select species of slackers who were the first to grow up on the Internet … and who watch way too much television.

So his movies are chock full of the things I love — great music, incendiary irreverence and a heaping helping of pop culture references.

And while the incredible soundtrack and complete no-holds-barred method of getting the laughs are both present in “Observe and Report,” the pop culture references are noticeably absent.

In lieu of the jokes about sex and/or “Star Wars,” “Observe and Report” takes a more character-driven approach to scoring laughs.

In fact, there are many scenes throughout the movie that seem to abandon all pretense of even TRYING to make you laugh, opting instead to make you cringe. That is, cringe in embarrassment for the people you have met in life who are ACTUALLY similar to the ridiculous people you are seeing on screen.

In particular, I’m referring to Anna Faris’ VERY funny portrayal of the 21st-century “it” girl. You know who I mean — the girl who has a VIP pass into every nightclub in town, where she spends seven nights a week drinking herself into oblivion whilst updating her MySpace from her Blackberry.

Rogen’s portrayal of Ronnie Barnhardt is also a good performance of a fine-tuned character. Ronnie is an unstable, delusional and profoundly dense mall security guard who is the biggest fish in a tiny pond. He has an entourage of underlings in the mall security staff, with whom he shares an unhealthy and irresponsible fascination with guns (by this I mean they can’t wait until they are permitted to carry guns in the mall because it will be so much “cooler”).

Many times, Rogen’s portrayal of Ronnie felt so complete that rather than laughing at him, you just felt sorry for him. I literally squirmed in my seat at his stupidity and self-deception. The only comparison I can think of is that it’s like watching David Brent (from the British version of “The Office”) or his American counterpart Michael Scott.

Having said all of these nice things about what I liked in “Observe and Report,” it is NOT the second coming of comedy. There are stretches of empty space in the film devoid of anything funny, clever or satirical.

Also, the film has a somewhat “baited product” feel to it that makes you feel the producers are intent on trying to cash in on the past successes of Rogen in films like “Knocked Up.” I personally don’t feel Rogen should be used this way.

As I said, I like Rogen. I identify with him. But I don’t think he should be bought and sold as a mass appeal comedy star. He does better as a writer and as a particular sort of character. You can’t stick him in a film that is a subtle, black indie comedy and try to sell it to the public as the next big Seth Rogen movie. It won’t work that way.

So what’s the bottom line as it looks from here? I dug this movie. I wasn’t swept away, but I dug it. It had some prime USDA choice music cuts from Queen, The Band and McLusky. I liked its haywire moral compass and the performances of Rogen and Faris (who I have started to really enjoy watching the past couple of years).

“Observe and Report” is a divisive flick that is better suited thrown in your Netflix queue, rather than shelling out the cost of a ticket.

2½ stars (out of 4)

STARRING: Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Ray Liotta, Michael Pena


RATED: R for pervasive language, graphic nudity, drug use, sexual content and violence

RUNNING TIME: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Lane Blevins is an aspiring filmmaker.

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